Building Weemala: an indigenous language interactive interface [slides]

ALIA Library

Thorpe, Kirsten; Bray, Paula; Smith, Marc

ALIA Information Online 2017 Conference, 13-17 February 2017 Sydney: Data Information Knowledge
This conference presentation (PowerPoint slides) supports the paper which discusses the development of an interactive interface to connect communities with indigenous collections.
Abstract: In 2016, the State Library of NSW launched an exciting new interactive interface, that uses 100 year-old survey data to map the location and meaning of Indigenous Australian place names across the country. The project called Weemala, which means ‘a big lookout’ in the Sydney language, places historic survey information from the State Library’s collection relating to Indigenous Australian communities in a digital landscape.
This paper will discuss the development of Weemala and explore the collaboration that took place build the platform, drawing on expertise from within the Library’s Indigenous team and the Library’s DX Lab. The collaboration drew on a range of skills, including input from Library staff, volunteers, an internship program (UTS Masters of Information Management) as well as engagement with a data specialist. Developer and data enthusiastic Chris McDowall worked with the DX Lab as a ‘Digital Drop In’ to create the test platform for the data using transcribed survey forms and correspondence received by the Royal Anthropological Society of Australasia between 1899 and 1903.
In developing Weemala, the Library was able to further expand the work of its Rediscovering Indigenous Languages project, which sought to make available the significant collections of Aboriginal language materials and word lists held within the Library’s collections. Weemala extends this work, using data to create new ways of engagement. The focus of exposing collections, and connecting the wider public to Indigenous Australian people was a core component of the project. As well as the commitment to engage Indigenous Australian communities with the Library’s collections to spark conversation and discussion about the nature and accuracy of the material that was historically collected.
The paper will demonstrate ways in which Libraries can effectively open up their data and build platforms that inspire curiosity, and in this case, connection with Indigenous Australian languages and place name meanings. It will also encourage participants to think about ways in which collections can be made more discoverable to enhance search and discovery of historic collections. It will also inspire others to think about respectful ways of opening up Indigenous Australian collections to deepen our understanding of place and history.

Deakin, ACT: Australian Library and Information Association
State Library of New South Wales